Taking stock of the new trend in holidaying ahead of World Tourism Day on September 27, industry experts say Indian travellers are looking for a home away from home.
When hotels are too expensive or just too crummy and there are no friends or family with homes in the vicinity, worry not. It’s no longer the end of the holiday road, but maybe the beginning of a vacation tailored to your needs thanks to homestays that offer the chance to explore new destinations, have meaningful conversations and relish local delicacies.
The increasing number of people across the country opening their homes to strangers gives travellers the opportunity to live their travel dreams and take back an experience of a lifetime. Taking stock of the new trend in holidaying ahead of World Tourism Day on September 27, industry experts say Indian travellers are looking for a home away from home.
With domestic travellers making 1.65 billion visits in 2017, according to Tourism Ministry figures, the growth potential of the nascent sector is endless, they said. The number of foreign travellers is also on the rise with ministry figures revealing that 10.5 million foreign tourists visited India in 2018.
For Delhi-based Preeti Mishra, one of those who holidays several times a year, the informal construct of the homestays is appealing. The Phd scholar at IIT-Delhi likes the fact that she can come back to a warm conversation with the owners or the caretakers of the property, and not “mechanically” crash in her hotel room, after a long day of sightseeing.
“Homestays are cosy. You get to interact with the owner, the cook, the cleaner… which is much better than ordering food at the reception,” Mishra, who has stayed in homestays in Himachal Pradesh and Shillong, said. This change in the preference of the Indian traveller has led to a noticeable shift in the country’s travel scene.
Online portal yatra.com has 3,500 homestays listed across 300 cities, and has seen a 67 per cent jump in booking queries pertaining to homestays, said COO Sharat Dhall. The numbers are even more encouraging for Airbnb, an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily homestays.
The brand has over 50,000 listings in India, including treehouses, ecological homestays, heritage homes and private bungalows. Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager at Airbnb, said the brand’s listings have increased by more than 150 per cent since they launched business in India in May 2016.
“The demand for local, immersive travel experiences is one of the primary factors driving the exponential growth of the home-sharing economy. That’s why alternative accommodations generally show higher levels of guest satisfaction than traditional accommodations,” Bajaj said.
“Apart from being easy on the pocket, homestays provide a unique and local travel experience to individuals,” added Dhall. While a large number of homestays are pocket friendly, some costing as low as Rs 250 per night, tariffs can run into several thousands in case of premium properties. Nishiraj A Baruah’s ‘Homestay by the Tea Garden’ in Dibrugarh is perhaps as authentic as one’s stay in Assam can get.
The owner ensures his guests have access to all the basic services that one can find at a hotel, including airport transfers, in room dining, television, laundry, and sightseeing, but also goes an extra mile to make them feel at home.
“We offer local food based on my mother’s recipes. Armed with first-hand knowledge about the region, I sit with my guests and plan their itineraries, take them for outings, sightseeing, shopping and dining out,” said Baruah, who occupies the ground floor of the property with his mother.
Perhaps why Harday Gupta, who has spent several years of travelling staying in hotels, finds homestays a refreshing change. They break the monotony of the unoriginal concept that is the hotel – a curt receptionist, a claustrophobic elevator, a room with a bed, a television and a washroom. For him, every hotel room feels the same, but every homestay seems to have a unique experience to offer. “Homestays have a different kind of an ambience, they are cool. Also, the welcoming, friendly host is one thing that you will never get in a hotel,” Gupta, a senior manager at a consulting firm, said.
Flexible check-in timings is what seals the deal for Mumbai-based marketing professional Kevin Harding. “I like the fact that home-stays aren’t very strict about the check in time,” he said. According to Ankit Rastogi of Cleartrip, a travel website, homestays are becoming a huge hit at leisure destinations like Goa, Kerala and Pondicherry, and also in places like Ladakh, parts of the northeast and the Konkan belt that are scenic but not been commercialised fully.
Bhupendra Singh’s Premkunj in Udaipur is a luxury homestay. Nestled in greenery, the fairly new six suite high-end property is located about five kilometres from the city.
Premkunj is equipped with facilities like a swimming pool and a restaurant, and Singh, who lives there, often takes his guests out for sightseeing. A suite here costs Rs 6,000 a night, including breakfast. Homestays have also opened up windows of opportunity, for both hosts and travellers, to forge friendships that last beyond that week-long trip.
Like for Nashik-based couple Uttara and Adwait Kher, who run the Utopia Farmstay, a five-minute drive from the famous Sula vineyards. A guest who stayed with them in June this year texted them recently to share news of her landing a job. “After all these months, she thought of messaging us! It’s a heartwarming feeling. It’s like some of the guests end up becoming extended family and friends,” Uttara said.